Posts Tagged With: traditional tattoo

Recent stuff

One of the more interesting things about being in tattooing for some time is that you become aware of patterns in your tattoo life. These aren’t like the regular patterns like every friday is garbage day or every November 14th is my anniversary, rather these are like the patterns of the wind blowing through a field of grass or the ripples of rain on a pond, somewhere there seems to be some set of rules that all those blades of grass or ripples follow but there is no way to figure it our with logic. In the same way we might find ourselves doing 4 owl tattoos in a month and then none for a year after that, or one piece after another with a lot of orange or pink or whatever in the color-scheme. I usually do quite a bit of Japanese type work and have a bunch of pieces out there in various stages of completion, but of late my tattooing has been full of more traditional Americana and European, nouveau-esque stuff.  While I didn’t decide on what I would be doing a lot of this month I am really pleased for the small change of pace if for no other reason than its nice to finish some pieces in one sitting!


I did a painting of this cobra lady a few months back and its been my business card image ever since. The original of the painting is hanging in the shop and a customer who was getting another piece saw it on his way out, liked it and asked if he could get it. Hell yes he could get it! The whole she-bang took less than 2 hours and I was really happy with how it read as a tattoo. Years ago when i worked at Eye Candy, Brian and I would fill the slow days by painting watercolors pieces, once we posted a few of these online we noticed that people would come in requesting the paintings as a tattoo. This begat a wonderful cycle of us pushing ourselves to paint more and better work while simultaneously generating some much-needed business. I didn’t know it at the time, but this also led to me becoming a better artist with the hours of “practice” we were putting in doing flash and paintings. When Cara began working full-time at the shop and wondered if she would get to do the sort of work she likes to do I stroked my long white beard and said wisely, “Just do a painting of the things you want to tattoo and you will do them.” It still works like magic. . .

This customer had an appointment for some time before iI could get her in, but it wasnt until a couple of days before her tattoo that i really got the idea to add the semi nouveau aspect to it. I just don’t do straight wildlife portraiture very well so i always look for the graphic angle to anything I do. Additionally I knew the design was to be only about 1/5th of her back and I didn’t want something with an outline border or hard straight edges to impose on her shoulder. I figured the softer edge of a color border and the skin tone negative space running through and out of the frame would ease the “sticker” look of a (relatively) small tattoo on the space. I am a strong proponent of the “needs more black” school of tattooing but this was a calculated move, Egrets are white and in order to give that effect i needed a solid background right against the bird but I didn’t want to lose the feminine angle with strong blacks.

So this skinny little thing posed an interesting challenge. The client had seen a tattoo in one of our waiting room books by Eli Quinters, it was a skeleton lady in Victorian garb with an umbrella. It was a pretty specific set of things that she liked about the tattoo so the thing would be to do a tattoo which incorporated all that and kept the spirit of Mr.Quinters excellent tattoo without making a copy of it. Step one was to put the book with the original tattoo away and not look at it again, images tend to work on my brain via osmosis so even having it open i believe would have limited my piece to what Eli had already done. Then  I looked up several Victorian references for dresses and hair and hats, I picked about 3 dresses that had bits I liked and drew a combination of them, not only did i not want to copy the other tattoo but I didn’t want to just trace a picture of a Victorian lady and slap a skull on the existing face, I think that felt too much like laziness or cheating to me. The other challenge was traditional, typically anything with a face (a portrait, an eagle, a dragon etc.) is tattooed facing “forward” or toward the customers center front. It’s a good rule of thumb as having a pretty lady looking behind you on your arm just seems awkward and wrecks the flow, in this case 90% o the Victorian skeleton was to face backward but her gaze would be forward. I always wonder in these cases do i turn the body toward the front or the face, usually the face wins and so it did here.

Ok obviously this kapala wasn’t done in one session, but I did finish it this month and am super excited with how it came out. One of the many lessons I have learned by studying Shige (of Yellow Blaze Tattoo ) is to not be afraid to do elements of a tattoo very large if it compliments the body part, this skull is about 2 and a half feet high but is part of a back piece and fits the body really well. there is a correspondingly large Buddha head on the other side of his ribs and when its finished will connect to a tattoo that goes from the client’s neck to the backs of his thighs, in this situation anything smaller would, I believe, be a waste of space and impact. It was interesting how quickly this piece got done considering its size and detail, I guess you could compare it to building a grandfather clock instead of a wristwatch, the smaller scale would actually have slowed things down as we stopped and readjusted to get all that detail into something half the size.

So that’s what I have been up to, we just returned from a tattoo convention in Toronto which was super fun and as soon as I organize those pictures I might have something to show from that.

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Lots o stuffs.

So I tattooed a can of garbonzo beans on a very nice lady the other day.

No really.

Im serious.

Im not kidding, see. . . . ?

I also finished these nice birds on Dans tummy. He works at Wicked Discs in the same building as us a couple days a week and this is only his second tattoo. By the way, Dan, i remembered the kind of bird they were, its the black capped chickadee.

Good shop friend Jonah is not only cooked for my wedding and got the first star wars themed tattoo i ever did, but hes also gotten some awesome work from Cara lately. He had an old piece he wanted me to cover and we banged out this monster parrot in about 3 hours.

Another good friend of Black Cat is Janice who got this awesome Mucha inspired lady started. She wanted something that paid homage to the famous JOB lady that Mucha created but she still wanted it to be her own unique tattoo and I was honored to oblige.

We are getting ready to go to Detroit for the Motor City tattoo convention and Im very excited! Ive done a lot of conventions but this one was always known for being one of the bigger more respected conventions ever since I began tattooing so its a thrill to be able to work it. Hopefully i will have some cool work to show when we get back!


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Did a couple of old school moths recently.

This one in October at the Meeting of the Marked convention here in Pittsburgh.

I just did this guy last night.


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‘Cause ya gotta have friennnnnnnds. . . .

I did this mermaid on Caras co-worker, Laura, the other day. Lauras OCD ways were useful to us as we cleaned the shop top to bottom so we could paint the waiting room, I offered to either pay her for the help or tattoo her and she chose the latter. . .

On Lauras thigh, about 7 inches tall

On Lauras thigh, about 7 inches tall

The next day screen printer and bike adviser extraordinaire, Bert, stopped in to fill in some of his rapidly dwindling blank area on his sleeve. We busted out this little beauty in about an hour. . .

Skull moths dont just eat your sweater, they eat your soul!

Skull moths dont just eat your sweater, they eat your soul!

Fun stuff on friends, its really why I still love tattooing so much. I don’t know if there could be more I could do to make people I care about happy than to tattoo them, its nice to have something to give back.

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Feets Ahoy

So we tattooed Caras foot the other day, she wanted to keep this design very traditional. Some of the first pictures of tattooed people feature some amazing tattoos done simply and with bold graphic style, we tried to capture this same thing in her tattoo. The only color was a tiny bit of brown in the sails. Cara took it like a champ as always.cara-ship-foot

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Lucky Friday the 13th! Valentines Day Action! Stabbing Tigers in their fucking HEADS!

So, the last 3 days in a chronological nutshell. . . .

As some of you may already know, This Friday the 13th we had a special day where we tattooed folks on a walk-in basis for only $13 dollars. A lot of towns have a shop that does this, Friday the 13th being a sort of informal tattoo shop holiday, but no one in Pittsburgh did. Til Now.

Cara and i drew up a sheet of traditional little designs, known in the old days as “porkchop flash”. I’m not sure why but one theory i heard states that the designs were so small that you wouldn’t make enough to afford steak, but you could do enough to afford porkchops. I kinda like that idea.

Anyhow we put out the word quietly on facebook, myspace, and here along with a few other selected forums like We wanted a fun crowd not a gang of riff-raff or people looking for a deal. And we got what we wanted! By 2 pm the waiting room was overflowing and the 2 dozen donuts I brought in were going quickly.

The waiting room at 2pm

The waiting room at 2pm

The crowd was an awesome mix of old friends, repeat customers, new folks and people who used the day (as we hoped) to check out the new shop! It got pretty fun and noisy, we banged them out one after another, by 4 pm we closed off the waiting list to new arrivals and were still tattooing folks til past 8 pm! We ran out of tubes, we ran out of paper towels (and one of those waiting went and fetched them for us!) Caras co-worker Chris had volunteered to work the floor for us and did an amazing job of juggling the waiting list, getting everyones forms filled out and ID checked, answering the phone, dealing with questions and keeping everyone laughing and patient as some of these folks waited 3 hours for a 20 minute tattoo! Chris kicked ass and will definitely be manning the helm for us during next months Friday the 13th!

Oh yes i said it bitches! March has yet another Friday the 13th and plan to do it all again! New flash will be drawn, more donuts will be acquired, and a bunch of disposable tubes will be bought ahead of time hee hee! We had a blast, the new shop got some exposure, and we ended up making 25 folks a lil bit prettier with some new ink.

Cara kicked ass all day, coming in after starting her morning opening Starbucks at 5AM!!! She is a trooper and continually amazes me with how quickly and thoroughly she is becoming a solid tattooer. My dumb ass decided to wait til the night before to paint the flash. . .and then in a fit of monumental stupidity stayed up until 3am before waking up at 7 am to get everything ready for the days event. But the energy and fun was so cool that I didn’t sag one bit all day.

So, If you don’t get your butts down to Black Cat in March for the 13th then you will have to wait til 2010 for the next $13 tattoo day!

The next day was, of course, Valentines day, and the first customer of the $13 day, Adam, returned for his appointment with his lovely lady Elena. It was to be her very first tattoo, a Japanese inspired falcon on the inside of her bicep. She was very nervous but still game and even during some of the more ouchy bits stuck to her guns and came back again and again til it was all finished. Now fully a bad assed tattoo person she watched as one of my favorite customers ever, Adam, got an amazing traditional dagger going through a tiger head! Behold!

Tiger? Check. Dagger? Check. Bad assness? Oh hell fucking check.

Tiger? Check. Dagger? Check. Bad assness? Oh hell fucking check.

Adam sat, as always, like a rock. He is a true aficionado of traditional style work and lately has been my bike question answerer while I grind away on his poor arms. Lots of my customer begin to feel like my friends after a few tattoos, He is definitely one of them. Tattooing is slow, often painful and expensive, and yet we do our best to make the experience (and result) fun and worth the effort our customer put forth. Trust me on this one, fellow tattooers, if you show some  love to your clients they will show you some love right back.

Cara came in after her Starbucks gig and immediately got to work on an appointment, and right after that did a walk in. Both tattoos came out clean and stylish, i foresee some serious repeat clients in her future.

Still exhausted from the Friday the 13th gala we decided to just go eat and go home. We hit up Sushi Too in Shadyside which was surprisingly uncrowded and exchanged gifts and smooches. After that we got some coffee and looked through Kat von D’s new book. Love her or hate her that lady knows how to make a neat product, be it a tv show, tattoo, make up, or book she definitely knows how to bring real substance into some very flashy style. Anyhow, looking at well done tattoos gave us a great idea!

We decided to head back to the shop and tattoo each others names on each other! Its an idea we had been kicking around for some time and what better time than valentines day!? Is it dangerous to get someones name on you? is it dumb? will you regret it? Maybe. but its also one of the most romantic things I can think  to do and life is too short to always play it safe.

Mines is on my wrist, hers is right above the inner elbow.

Mines is on my wrist, hers is right above the inner elbow.

We drew them up for each other and I did my very best to fancy the hell out of some script and Cara hooked me up with some old school tattoo letters that make a big softy like me look like a hard ass. We even brought Eddie with us, I know it might not be the most sane thing in the world to bring a crazy dog onto your lap while getting tattooed, but family is family.

For some time now I have been planning to ask Cara to marry me. Ive wanted it to be every romantic dream she has come true. Ive shopped for rings, Ive plotted where, when and how I would ask, Pondered whether I should go old school and ask her dad for her hand. But in the end I went with my gut and my heart and I asked her to be my wife as I was tattooing my name on her arm. I wasnt scared, I wasn’t even really thinking of it five minutes before I asked. The moment simply came up and at the perfect time I asked the person I adore more than anything in the world if she would do me the honor of being my wife.

She said no.

IM KIDDING! Of course, she said yes! We’ll get around to a ring at some point, but as far as Im concerned her name on me and mine on her arm is worth more than anything else in the world.


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Old School

What makes a tattoo “Traditional”? Some folks mistake a traditional tattoo for one that is poorly drawn, and certainly the old days had their fair share of mediocre artists. On the other hand there were plenty of amazing tattooers, and the real reason for the simple style of drawing was twofold. First, in the ‘old days’ of traditional tattooing (1920’s to 1960’s) the primary clientele was soldiers and sailors, these groups would come in on leave from training or on shore leave from their ships. . .and they all came in at once! In order to pump out 100 tattoos in one day what was required was an art style that could be applied quickly, with strong graphic qualities, and that would be able to survive the less than ideal healing process most military folk put their new ink through.


Second, the technology of tattooing was different than we have today. there were no purpose built tattoo needles, the artists of the day had to use whatever sort of pins they could acquire from wholesale needle makers, these pins were suited for sewing but less than ideal for tattooing. To overcome the limitations a large group of needles were used for the outline, this resulted in a bold line that made up for the individual pins weaknesses AND meant that a line that would last could be applied in one pass. The drawback to such a bold outline is that small details wont work, faces had to be simplified on pin up girls and lettering had to be simple and straightforward to stand the test of time. The combination of the strong graphic quality and the need for designs that could be applied quickly resulted in what we came to call “traditional” tattooing.

I did this rose today on the back of Cara’s thigh, although I drew it from scratch I tried to remain faithful to the traditional aesthetic.


Another trait that an authentic ‘traditional’ tattoo has is a very limited color palette. In the same way that needles were not made for tattooers neither were pigments, in fact most pigments contained ingredients back then that could be hazardous in a tattoo. Tattooers would often order powdered pigment from a paint supplier and do a test patch in their own leg, if it didn’t flare up, cause a reaction or burn then it was considered safe to use as tattoo ink. In the old days the only colors that could be reliable applied without a customer getting ill were black, green, red, and yellow (and red was still pretty iffy. . . ) To this day a traditional tattoo looks the most genuine when only those colors are used, as soon as a little blue or purple gets put in there it ceases to have that old-school sailor look.

Whether done on purpose or a happy accident, it turned out that traditional tattoos had a great ability to remain readable and hold up for decades. Lots of old military folk have a pin up girl or eagle on their arm over 50 years old and most of them are still clear enough to read the faces and feather details. Lets hope Caras rose looks that good when she is 70!

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Some New old School

Some traditional-ish work Ive been putting out lately.

I did this shark on another tattooers hand this week. There is always a little extra pressure when you are tattooing a tattooer, you know that every line will be scrutinized and evaluated. . . for the rest of that persons life.

Anyhow, this was fun to do and for once I managed to keep it simple and not blob it up with all kinds of needless detail.


Next I did this sweet scary horse (night-mare?) on a great regular customer. This is a little more straight up traditional, we limited the colors to the “traditional” palette. Black, red, green, and yellow and thats it. For me the problem has always been leaving enough skin tone, I used to color everything to the gills, it looked ok but it lost that old-school peppery color look. This time I kept it clean though.

This one came out pretty good, i think.


I love this kind of stuff. Still, on the horizon is some large Japanese work, Ive been super inspired lately. Im also working on some t-shirt designs for the shop and if they come out the way i think they will I’ll be stoked!

Cara has been coming in daily and did her first paying tattoo this week! In true tattoo trial-by-fire she got to do a name on some floppy boobs. hey, its not all rock stars and rappers (in fact, its never rock stars or rappers hee hee). She was a pro and has been working on her own legs (a very traditional way to practice) and kicking ass.  Im so proud of her, our shop, the customers Ive been blessed with and if it wasn’t minus 4 degrees here I might think I was in heaven!

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